There is No Present Like the Time: 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' Film Review
by Will Lindus
I’ve never been one to place much stock in fate, though I do appreciate the peculiar coincidences which life has to offer. Case in point: before our screening of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a dear friend and I stopped for dinner. As tends to happen with dear friends and dinner, conversation soon turned to the paths our lives had taken. We waxed about the joy we find in our current jobs, reminisced about the choices we made when we were younger, and mulled over the idea that we are no longer as young as once we were.
I promise you this is not merely egotistical rambling about the details of a fine meal, though I can assure you that the spicy peanut stir fry that I shoveled into my face was the perfect remedy for a cold evening. No, the point of this anecdote is that the theme of our conversation dove-tailed perfectly with the themes present in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of a group of retired British ex-pats who have taken up residence at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. As proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel) and resident Muriel (Maggie Smith) pursue Sonny’s dream of expanding to a second location, the remaining residents embark on a series of personal adventures of their own. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) engage in a Ross and Rachel-esque game of ‘will they / won’t they,' Norman (Ronald Pickup) tries to halt the hit he accidentally puts out on his wife, and Madge (Celia Imrie) tries to determine which of her wealthy suitors to marry.
The format of the film is pretty simple; each of the characters in this brilliant ensemble has their own personal dilemma, and through the course of the film, they strive to find the courage, determination, or the wisdom to make the best decisions possible. The formula is simple, but the execution is where the magic lies. The film certainly acknowledges the fact that the cast is almost entirely elderly, and sure, some jokes are made of this fact. For the most part, though, the residents are refreshingly treated as real people, with real problems, real hopes, and real fears.
There is this one little line that pops up a few times in the film, a simple twist on a familiar idiom: there is no present like the time. The word play is cute, but the meaning of this quote - the idea that there is nothing more vital that we can give to those we love than our time - resonated instantly with me. I thought about the meal I had just shared with my friend, about the film which we both enjoyed together, and about the conversation that stemmed from that experience. I then thought about the passage of time, and how in five years, we may be in entirely different corners of the world, living dramatically different lives. We had shared this moment, though, this singular moment in time, and nothing can ever take that from us.
This is where I pause and apologize (albeit briefly) for the saccharine-sweet nature of the previous paragraph. I raise these points, though, because this is what film should always aspire to do: to resonate with some aspect of the viewer’s life. In this regard, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a success.
Sure, there are faults. A subplot with Richard Gere feels a bit forced, the individual predicaments are fairly predictable, and Dev Patel’s character spends too much of the film acting buffoonish and not enough time proving his capability. And, yes, these faults do detract from the film in a purely academic sense. Mostly, though, they are quibbles; The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a solid film, one that I recommend you check out if you are in the mood for a life-affirming pick-me-up experience.
Just make sure to bring a friend.
3.5 out of 5 Bear Paws